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Francis to wrap up high school football career at 20th annual Valor Bowl

UWCHLAN – Dillon Estes remembers a bunch of times trying to tackle Avon Grove teammate/bulldozer/running back Kevin Francis during practice, but one encounter sticks out.

“One time we were doing a goal line drill. I went to tackle him and I ended up with my helmet turned the other way,” said Estes, a linebacker/fullback with the Red Devils. “I was looking out of the ear hole and I had three buckles undone.”

When it comes to Francis, those kinds of stories are commonplace. Throughout the 2017 football season, he was described as a ‘battering ram,’ a ‘throw-back runner’ and a ‘tough guy.’

“You can’t arm tackle that kid,” said Downingtown East head coach Mike Matta. “And at the end of the game, he is still running at the same speed, and everyone else is worn out.”

Francis’ remarkable senior season assured that he will go down as one of the toughest runners in Ches-Mont history. And on Thursday, Francis — and 80-plus others — will wrap up their high school football careers in the 20th Annual Valor Bowl All-Star Game. Kickoff is set for 7:15 p.m. from West Chester’s Farrell Stadium.

“Just being able to hang out with a lot of the guys I played against has been amazing,” said Francis, who lives in Lincoln University.

In the last dozen years, the Valor Bowl has raised nearly a half million dollars for Special Olympics, and there will be plenty of Division I prospects on both the West and East rosters. But nobody had a final high school season quite like Francis, who is headed to Division II Bloomsburg as a preferred walk on.

“I like Kevin because he runs very tough and physical. You know it’s coming, but he still has success with it,” Matta said.

“It’s obvious he’s a kid with a lot of heart and desire,” added Downingtown West head coach Mike Milano, moments after Francis ran the football 50 times for 390 yards and five touchdowns in a win over the Whippets last fall.

That performance shattered school records and his attempts and yardage were second all-time in the Ches-Mont. In all, Francis went on to gain a mind boggling 1,818 rushing yards in an equally stunning 285 carries.

“I was surprised with the totals, to be honest,” said his coach Harry O’Neill, who will serve as the head coach of the West squad on Thursday. “But I thought Kevin would be real good. I told our guys he would have an opportunity to lead the league in rushing.

“We are an I-back team, so he was going to get his 18-20 touches. Not the 50 he got against Downingtown West, but I thought if he got 200 carries, he’d get about 1,200 yards. I didn’t think he’d go off for 1,818.”

Francis wound up averaging 28.5 attempts per game, led the Devils to a 4-2 mark and a third place finish in the rugged Ches-Mont National. And if the league MVP was awarded to the player that was irreplaceable to his squad, Francis would have won it with ease.

“We saw a lot of nine man fronts,” O’Neill recalled. “Opponents knew he was getting the ball, but the thing about Kevin is that he is not a dancer. He is going to bang it into the hole to get three to six yards, and if he busts it into the secondary, there aren’t a lot of guys who want to tackle him.”

Despite starting on the varsity as a sophomore and junior, Francis entered last fall completely under the radar to just about everybody except his teammates and coaching staff. He was an unsung fullback and a second-string tailback behind Nate Jones. But when Jones graduated after the 2016 campaign and headed to Kutztown, Francis got his chance.

“I surprised a bunch of people,” Francis said. “I don’t think anyone knew what I could do because I was behind Nate Jones.

“It surprised me. I didn’t think I’d be able to push myself to get that many yards, but it wasn’t just me. It was my blockers and the whole offense.”

In addition, Francis isn’t all that imposing for such an effective power back, but he packs a rock-solid 190 pounds on a 5-foot-9 frame.

“He’s not the biggest kid in the world but he brings a load,” O’Neill said.

“I asked (O’Neill) the other day if Francis was at practice because I didn’t realize it was him,” said Matta, who is an assistant for the West squad. “He has things you can’t coach like great vision and great instincts.

“He definitely delivers hits, and he knows who he is. You see guys that are similar but they try to be nifty. He is who he is. He owns it and does a very good job.

“He is the kind of guy we look for in a back. When Avon Grove really started giving him the ball, that’s when they started winning.”

A common theme last season was that Francis was a classic overachiever, who wasn’t all that gifted athletically and was very good at doing one thing: running the football. But that isn’t necessarily the case.

“You hear that he’s slow, but if you watch him on film, you notice that he never gets caught,” Matta said.

“We didn’t throw a lot to Kevin last fall but as a sophomore and junior he caught a lot of passes,” O’Neill added. “He is a lot more versatile than people think.”

The secret to Francis’ non-stop motor and his incredible durability was that rather than taking a lot of big hits from defenders, he routinely dished them out. According to Francis, he started running that way as a youngster and it’s always worked.

“We learned that Kevin will do whatever he sets his mind to,” said Estes, who is headed the Division III Lebanon Valley. “We loved blocking for him. He is a great teammate.”

He isn’t, however, Superman. Francis acknowledged that the day after going for 390 yards on 50 carries against Downingtown West, he was the sorest he’s ever been.

“I didn’t want to get out of bed the next day,” he said.

But, of course, he did, and was back on the practice field a day later.

2018 Valor Bowl West Team roster

1       Kevin Sheehan  5’8”       155       K          Avon Grove

2       Julian Nadachowski       6’1”       215       LB        Oxford

3       Kahtero Summers          6’3”       190       WR       Coatesville

4       Tyler Boyd        6’1”       200       DB       Avon Grove

5       Mekhi Alexander            5’8”       175       DB       Coatesville

6       Ronnie Grizzanti            5’9”       175       DB       Downingtown East

7       Nick Sicila         5’10”     180       DB       Downingtown West

8       Chandler England          5’11”     175       QB       Oxford

9       Josh Brockson  6’3”       215       TE        Avon Grove

10     Brandon DeShields       5’9”       170       WR       Oxford

11     Jake Dilcher      5’11”     170       QB       Kennett

12     Shane Wolford  6’4”       185       QB       Avon Grove

13     Chris Brooks     5’11”     170       WR       Kennett

14     Bryce Lauletta   6’3”       185       QB       Downingtown East

15     Brassir Stocker 6’1”       185       RB        Downingtown East

16     Trent Pawling    5’10”     165       DB       Octorara

17     Donte Crews     6’2”       180       DB       Coatesville

20     Dylan Lapham   6’0”       170       WR       Avon Grove

21     Brandon Jackson          6’1”       205       LB        Octorara

22     TJ Simmons      5’8”       180       RB        Downingtown West

23     Trent McNally    6’2”       200       LB        Downingtown East

24     Kevin Francis    5’9”       190       RB        Avon Grove

25     Kevin Wessells  6’0”       200       LB        Kennett

28     Brandon Holz    6’0”       180       RB        Oxford

33     Zach Hillard       5’11”     180       LB        Coatesville

34     Andrew Ciliberto            5’10”     180       RB        Downingtown West

35     Josh Willenbrock           6’0”       190       LB        Downingtown West

43     Dillon Estes      6’1”       210       LB        Avon Grove

44     Johnny Clifford 6’1”       180       LB        Coatesville

45     Nicolas Hesel    6’3”       190       DE       Downingtown East

52     Ricky Rodriguez            5’9”       180       OL        Coatesville

54     Alex Raimondo 5’10”     220       DL        Coatesville

55     Joey Janick      6’2”       235       DL        Downingtown East

56     Joel Mogaka     5’11”     250       OL        Avon Grove

61     Andrew Hibbs   6’1”       240       OL        Downingtown West

68     Jared Tweed     5’10”     240       OL        Oxford

71     Garrett Farmer   6’5”       280       OL        Downingtown East

72     Nate Pizzini       6’1”       280       OL        Kennett

73     Donnie Black    6’1”       225       OL        Octorara

75     Josh Havrialk    5’10”     215       OL        Owen J. Roberts

77     Phillip Hurtt       6’3”       215       OL        Oxford

78     Carter Regitz     6’3”       280       OL        Downingtown East

Head coach: Harry O’Neill, Avon Grove


2018 Valor Bowl East roster

1       Garrett Reilly     5’7”       170       P/K       Malvern Prep

2       Damien Carter   5’9”       145       WR/DB Great Valley

3       Kevin Boyle      5’6”       160       RB        Malvern Prep

4       Roshaun Christopher     5’10”     175       DB       Conestoga

5       JT Hower          5’9”       170       WR/DB Unionville

 6      Nate Graeff       6’2”       230       TE/DE  Great Valley

7       Ian Tracy           6’0”       185       WR       WC Henderson

8       Joe Saulino       6’3”       175       DB       WC Henderson

9       Dan DiBeneditto            6’0”       175       QB/DB  Bishop Shanahan

10     Bobbt Bosch    6’1”       180       K/P       WC Rustin

11     Joe Zubillaga    6’1”       210       WR/LB  Unionville

13     Sam Ross         6’0”       190       TE/LB   Unionville

14     Tom Waite        6’1”       190       WR/DB Bishop Shanahan

15     Alex Gorgone    5’11”     170       QB       Unionville

16     Andrew McMahon          5’9”       165       WR/DB WC East

17     Steve Sweeney 6’1”       170       RB/DB  Bishop Shanahan

18     Charles Jacobs 6’3”       235       TE/DE  WC East

20     Mark Neri          5’8”       150       WR/DB Great Valley

22     Ty Pringle         6’0”       185       RB        WC Rustin

23     Nick Benoit       5’11”     175       RB/DB  WC Rustin

24     CJ Preston        6’0”       215       RB        WC Henderson

25     Cory Nowlan     6’1”       170       DB       Conestoga

26     Dante Graham   6’0”       180       RB/DB  Unionville

33     Alex Crouse      5’7”       175       RB/LB   Great Valley

43     Parker Wolf       6’2”       220       LB        Great Valley

44     Liam Dearing     6’0″       190       FB/LB   Bishop Shanahan

50     Matt Dempsey  6’2”       235       OL/DE  Conestoga

51     Xander Utecht   6’2”       270       OL/DL   Great Valley

52     Gonzalo Delgadillo        5’10”     200       LB        WC East

53     Rudy Ricutti      5’9”       225       OL/DL   WC Rustin

55     Sean Heckler     6’2”       240       OL/DL   WC East

58     Pablo Aviles-Bernal       5’10”     185       OL/LB   Unionville

59     Nick Joerger     5’11”     200       LB        WC Rustin

61     Joey Hagan      6’2”       230       OL/DL   Unionville

66     Grayson Jenkins           5’8”       205       OL/LB   Great Valley

67     Mac Barry         6’2”       265       OL/DL   Bishop Shanahan

70     Dan Shoop       6’1”       255       OL/DL   WC Rustin

72     Malyk Tucker     5’8”       230       OL/DL   WC East

74     Kevin Jones      6’7”       295       OL/DL   Bishop Shanahan

80     Carson Jones    6’2”       210       TE/DE  WC Rustin

81     Tom McGovern 6’3”       210       TE/DE  Conestoga

Head coach: Dan Ellis, Great Valley

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